How to Clean Canvas Shoes: Step by Step [DIY]

how to clean canvas shoes

Would you agree that canvas makes the world go round? Maybe not quite, but canvas is so ingrained in the modern shoe market that stores would have far fewer light, casual shoe options without it. There are canvas slip-on shoes, canvas athletic shoes, and even canvas boots as an alternative to leather.

When you need something easy to slip on and head out the door on a whim, canvas shoes will do. When you want lightweight footwear that will blend with everything from shorts to summer dresses, canvas is the perfect fit. They come in endless color and style options. Indeed, most people have at least one pair sitting in their closets.

This means that virtually everyone needs to know how to clean canvas shoes properly. That’s what this guide is all about. Let’s jump right into the details!

What are canvas shoes

Canvas shoes are lightweight footwear consisting of durable woven uppers and leather or rubber soles. Canvas material was once made from hemp. But, modern versions are mostly created from cotton or linen. While the material is coarse, it’s also highly breathable.

Canvas shoes are lightweight footwear consisting of durable woven uppers and leather or rubber soles. Canvas material was once made from hemp. But, modern versions are mostly created from cotton or linen. While the material is coarse, it’s also highly breathable.

You’ll see a lot of canvas shoes hitting store shelves in the spring. As the chill of winter gives way to warmer weather, most people start pushing those leather boots to the back of the closet and searching for something light and comfortable in the heat. Canvas is the perfect material for a sunny day because it allows air circulation while providing more skin coverage and support than flip flops or sandals.

man and woman wearing canvas shoes
Photo by: Alysa Bajenaru

Canvas shoes are also appreciated for their versatility and affordability. The material is much cheaper to make than leather or suede. Thus, prices are much lower for consumers. Canvas is also easily dyed to virtually any color and it’s easily manipulated and accessorized to create a variety of style options. You can wear canvas to most casual events, and there are ways to dress some shoes up for fancier occasions as well.

Most people appreciate canvas for their comfort. It allows a full range of motion without that sense of confinement that may come with heavy leather shoes. The downside is that it might not provide adequate protection if you go puddle jumping or get caught in an unexpected downpour. Water doesn’t ruin the material. Still, it also doesn’t block it from soaking your feet.

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Some of the most popular brands offering canvas shoes include Keds, Converse, and Vans. You can also buy shoes made from canvas from virtually any clothing outlet, including Old Navy.

Canvas slip on shoes

Canvas slip-on shoes are lightweight, woven footwear designed to easily slide on and off the foot without laces or other complications. They’re made from canvas material, which is woven mostly from cotton and linen. Some of the most inexpensive casual shoes for women and men are made from canvas with a slip-on design.

Some of the most popular slip-on canvas styles include:

Espadrilles

Slip-on shoes with canvas or cotton uppers and soles made from rope. The roped soles give these shoes a distinctive look. They don’t offer a lot of foot support but are lightweight, highly breathable, and comfortable for casual occasions.

Dock or Boat Shoes

Slip-on shoes with rubber soles designed for use in wet environments like boat decks. While they’re common for people who work on boats, many canvas shoes sold to the general public copy the same style. They may have more durable, supportive soles than some other canvas shoes.

Loafers

Canvas slip-ons often have thicker, more supportive rubber soles and pieces of elastic on the sides for greater stretch and flexibility. You may also see these called canvas sneakers.


Loafers and dock shoes are also available in more durable materials like leather.

Cleaning canvas shoes

Canvas shoes are much easier to clean than leather or suede shoes. You don’t have to worry as much about ruining the material because it’s not as sensitive to cleaning solutions, and it isn’t nearly as vulnerable to water damage.

You can toss some canvas shoes in the washing machine and even the dryer. But that isn’t always the safest and most effective cleaning option. You may damage the lining or sole even if the canvas upper makes it through without damage. You may also find that your shoes still have stains after a run through the washer. So, it’s always good to know how to clean your shoes by hand.

woman jumping on a poodle with wet canvas shoes
Photo by: Lukas Godina

I’m going to give you step-by-step instructions for cleaning up canvas shoes that are starting to lose their visual appeal. Then I’ll share valuable tips for cleaning canvas shoes in various colors. Let’s get started!

What you will need to clean your canvas shoes

Before I walk you through the process of cleaning your canvas shoes, let’s discuss the tools that you will need to do the job well. I’m going to assume that you have decided not to wash your shoes in the washing machine or have already tried that without satisfying results.

Keep in mind that a washing machine’s aggressive motion may weaken the glue holding the soles to the canvas upper or may contribute to color fade over time. If you don’t want to risk your shoes, you can gather some of the following tools to clean them up in a gentler fashion:

  • Mild laundry detergent or dish soap.
  • Stain remover designed for fabric material.
  • Baking soda.
  • Sponge.
  • Toothbrush.
  • Soft nylon scrub brush.
  • Paper towels.
  • White cloth towel.
  • Warm water.
  • Bucket or large bowl.

You may not need every item on this list. So, don’t panic if you don’t have everything on hand already. You may use a washcloth to scrub if you don’t have a sponge or old toothbrush. The scrub brush will make it easier to eliminate tough stains, but you may not need to scrub that hard if your shoes have been worn gently.

woman wearing black canvas shoes on a garden with yellow flowers
Photo by: Jaizer Capangpangan

Read through the following step-by-step instructions to determine what you need to give your canvas shoes a general cleaning.

How to clean canvas shoes?

Canvas is a durable material that can handle some slightly rough scrubbing when needed. If you’re dealing with tough stains that have set into the fabric over a long period of time, you may need to clean your shoes multiple times. In some cases, you will never revive that brand-new appearance. It’s still worth giving your shoes at least a couple of thorough cleanings before you rule them out.

How do you clean canvas shoes? The following steps will get you from saturated with dirt to squeaky clean if you’re willing to put a little work into the process.

Total Time: 20 minutes

  1. Remove your shoelaces

    You can wash them in the washing machine with clothing of like color. Alternatively, mix warm water with mild laundry detergent or dish soap in a small mixing bowl or cup. Place the shoelaces in the solution and allow them to soak while you move through the rest of this cleaning process.

  2. If your insoles are removable, take them out

    Scrub them with a mix of warm water and mild dish soap or laundry detergent. You don’t have to let them soak. Just scrub them down with a toothbrush, sponge, or soft scrubbing brush. Set them aside to air dry.

  3. Shake off larger clumps of dirt or other debris clinging to your shoes

    You can use a scrub brush or washcloth. But, clapping the soles of the shoes together or knocking them lighting on a hard surface will work as well.

  4. Use a large bucket or mixing bowl

    Mix warm water with enough laundry detergent or dish soap to create suds. You can also use a clean sink if you don’t have a bucket or bowl on hand. You can use other types of mild soap, including soaps designed for fabric. Stay away from harsh cleaners. Only use cleaners with bleach if your shoes are white.

  5. Wash your shoes with the warm, soapy water

    There are two ways to do this, so take your pick. The first option is to dip one shoe into the water at a time. You don’t want to leave a shoe laying in the water for a long period of time. So, dip it and pull it right back out. Then proceed to scrub the shoe with a toothbrush, sponge, or soft scrub brush.

    The second option is to dip your toothbrush, sponge, or scrub brush into the water instead of dipping the shoe. That limits the amount of water soaking into the canvas, which can limit color fading. More difficult stains may respond better to a deeper saturation of water.

    Thoroughly scrub the canvas upper as well as the sole. Try to scrub in one direction because a back and forth motion may loosen canvas’s fibers. You can place some pressure on canvas material, But, don’t use unnecessary force because you want those fibers to remain tightly woven.

    Make sure to scrub inside the shoe, too! That’s especially important if you wear your canvas shoes without socks or have sweaty feet.

  6. Run warm water in a sink and rinse your shoes

    Make sure all of the soap is removed from the canvas.

  7. Use a clean towel to hand dry the shoes

    Dry your shoes as much as possible and then stuff them with white paper towels. Set them aside long enough for the paper towels to become damp or wet. And then remove them from the shoes.

  8. You can allow your shoes to air dry at this point

    If you need them to dry faster, try blowing them with a hairdryer or placing them in front of a high-speed fan. You may want to stuff them with paper towels again to ensure they hold their natural shape while drying.

  9. Remove your shoelaces from their soaking water

    Scrub them down with a brush or sponge if needed. Rinse them thoroughly with clean water and let the air dry.

Estimated Cost: 25 USD

Supply:

  • Mild laundry detergent or dish soap
  • Stain remover designed for fabric material
  • Baking soda
  • Paper towels
  • White cloth towel
  • Warm water

Tools:

  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush
  • Soft nylon scrub brush
  • Bucket or large bowl


That’s all for the basic cleaning process for canvas shoes. You may still have some stubborn stains that just won’t come out with routine cleaning. Don’t panic! I have some tips to solve that problem.

Keep reading for valuable tips on cleaning white canvas shoes, black canvas shoes, and slip-on canvas shoes. I’ll even tell you how to stretch and dye canvas shoes. Let’s move on to more advanced shoe cleaning tips and tricks.

Tips on how to clean canvas shoes

It’s time to deliver some valuable tips for washing canvas shoes. For starters, add a couple of towels to the load if you decide to wash your shoes by machine. The hard soles can make consistent loud noises as they clunk around the washing machine and dryer. The towels will quiet the ruckus while protecting your dryer from hard hits.

What do you know about keeping canvas shoes looking brand new? Keep reading, and I’ll pass on all the secrets. I want you to get the most out of every pair of shoes. Cleaning is essential to maintaining shoes’ integrity over time.

How to clean white canvas shoes

You have a few options for cleaning white canvas shoes with tough stains. First up is toothpaste. I’m putting this first because it’s the gentlest option for your canvas material.

dirty white canvas shoes
Photo by: Joanna Nix-Walkup

Simply place a bit of white, non-gel toothpaste over a stain and then gently scrub with a toothbrush or small scrub brush. Allow the shoe to sit with the toothpaste worked into the material for 10 or 15 minutes. Use a damp cloth to wipe the toothpaste off the shoe. You can do this before or after going through the general cleaning instructions given earlier in this chapter.

The second option is a mixture of water, baking soda, and white vinegar. Mix a cleaning solution with the following recipe:

  • 1 cup of warm water.
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar.
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda.

Dip a sponge, cloth, toothbrush, or soft scrub brush in the mixture and scrub the stains directly. This is a safe alternative if you don’t like working with bleach.

For really stubborn stains or when all else fails, you can use bleach to clean white canvas shoes.

The first option is to add a bit of bleach to the warm, soapy water. Instead of dipping the shoes in the water, dip your toothbrush or scrub brush into the water. And then gently scrub the canvas while wearing thick cleaning gloves to protect your skin. You may also want to wear goggles to prevent the bleach from splashing into your eyes. Long sleeves and pant legs are also advisable.

If you have just one or two stained spots, you can mix a small cup of warm water with bleach and spot clean with a soft brush or toothbrush. You can then follow the routine cleaning instructions so that the bleach is only in contact with the stained material.

How to clean black canvas shoes

There are fewer options for cleaning black or other colorful canvas shoes because you don’t want the colors to fade. Stay away from bleach and any fabric cleaner that may contain bleach or equally harmful chemicals. It’s best to stick with mild soaps and detergents mixed with warm water. Try cleaning the shoes multiple times if you have trouble with tough stains.

woman legs with black canvas shoes
Photo by: Camila Damásio

The best way to keep your colored canvas shoes clean is to spot clean as soon as you see anything on the shoes. Inspect them regularly and clean off dirt and grime with the following quick-clean steps:

  • Wipe the spot off immediately with a warm, damp cloth. In many cases, this is all you will need to do if you catch the problem fast enough.
  • Add a small drop of liquid dish soap or another mild soap. Scrub the spot with a cloth, sponge, or soft scrub brush.
  • Dry the spot with a paper towel or cloth, and then set aside to air dry.

You can use black liquid shoe polish to touch up black canvas shoes. It may not hold up if you get your shoes wet. Yet, it can eliminate faded spots in the short term so that your shoes last a bit longer.

How to clean slip on canvas shoes

You can clean slip-on canvas shoes the same way you clean any other canvas shoe. You don’t have to worry about removing and cleaning shoelaces, but some slip-on shoes do have small ties or decorative features like tassels. If those are removable, you should treat them as you would shoelaces. That allows you to get to all areas of the shoe, including areas that would otherwise rest underneath the ties or other accents.

To thoroughly clean your slip-on canvas shoes, follow the step-by-step cleaning instructions featured earlier in this chapter. You may also want to check out my tips for cleaning white or black canvas shoes above, depending on the color of your slip-on.

How to clean canvas tennis shoes

Most canvas tennis shoes are cleaned just as you would any other canvas shoe. You can follow the step-by-step cleaning instructions detailed earlier in this chapter and then add the tips for white or black canvas shoes as needed. Make sure to remove the shoelaces and scrub the inside of the shoes because you’re more likely to sweat in athletic shoes.

people with tennis rackets and canvas tenis shoes
Photo by: Christian Tenguan

If your canvas tennis shoes have suede accents, you can clean the shoe’s canvas parts according to the directions listed above and then flip back to chapter one to learn how to clean suede shoes. Use those directions to spot clean the suede accents only.

You may want to pay more attention to the soles of your tennis shoes during the cleaning process. Shoes designed for exercise, sports, and more extensive walking may experience a faster breakdown of the soles. Keeping them clean may help minimize the damage to maximize the life of your shoes.

Canvas shoe care

You don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning your shoes over and over again. So, it’s vital to maintain your canvas over time. When discussing how to clean black canvas shoes, I talked about checking your shoes for dirty spots on a routine basis and spot cleaning immediately when you see anything that may leave a stain. That’s a good idea for all canvas shoes, regardless of the color.

You may also maintain your shoes by stuffing them with paper towels whenever they get soaked with water. Whether you decide to jump in the swimming pool fully clothed at a party or find yourself dashing through the rain on a Monday morning, promptly drying your shoes and inspecting for dirty spots will help maintain your shoe’s appearance and functionality.

How to Protect Canvas Shoes

Apply a fabric protector like Scotchguard for basic canvas shoe protection. Spray a thin layer of fabric protector over the surface of your canvas, and then let your shoes air dry.

womans white canvas shoes with red hearts
Photo by: Alin Surdu

This is a basic protection that will help repel some of the dirt your shoes are bound to contact. Many fabric protectors also allow you to quickly wipe off dirty spots without water or soap, making it easier to maintain your shoes.

How to Deodorize Canvas Shoes

Do your shoes get an unpleasant odor after routine use? We have a simple remedy: dryer sheets!

Tuck a dryer sheet inside each shoe when you go to bed a few nights a week. The sheets will naturally deodorize your shoes while you sleep, leaving them fresh and ready for action come morning. It’s best to do this before they start to think. So, make it a part of your bedtime routine.

How to stretch canvas shoes

Are your canvas shoes too narrow for comfort? That’s a common problem for Converse and some other canvas shoes. Don’t worry! You’re not alone. You don’t want to go up a size if that leaves your toes too far from the front of the shoe. Thus, this leaves you with trying to stretch them out for a wider fit around the middle.

Let’s start by noting that canvas does loosen over time, especially with daily use. Think of it as breaking them in just as you might a new pair of leather boots. That takes time, so you may still want to try stretching them out for immediate comfort.

Some of your options for stretching canvas shoes include the following strategies:

  • Invest in a shoe stretcher. These wooden devices are placed inside your shoes and will gradually stretch the material over time. While stretchers are typically designed for leather shoes, you can try them with any shoe type you want to stretch.
  • Dip your shoes in cold water, and then tie the shoelaces as tight as possible. You want to narrow the inside of the shoe through this tying action. Stuff the shoe with a cloth or bunched up socks, overfilling the inside space so that the material pushes against the outer canvas. Let the shoes dry with that pressure applied to the canvas. You may need to do this multiple times before making progress.

When all else fails, try to adjust your shoelaces to allow more room inside your shoes. The more you wear your shoes, the more the canvas should start to loosen up.

How to paint canvas shoes

We’ve talked about maintaining, protecting, and cleaning canvas shoes, but what about painting them? This is a fun activity that you can do with cheap canvas shoes found at dollar stores or most big box stores with a shoe department. You don’t have to pay big bucks for Keds, Converse, or Vans to rock a fun pair of shoes that put your personality on display.

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You may also want to paint canvas shoes when creating a unique costume for Halloween or a themed party. If you see painting shoes as a creative outlet, try selling your unique creations online.

Now, how do you go about painting canvas shoes? I’ll walk you through the process step by step right now:

  1. Head to the craft store or go online to secure acrylic paint. If you don’t know what design you want to paint, go for a paint set or create a color scheme that you like. If you don’t already have paintbrushes, add a few flat and round brushes with small to medium heads to your shopping list.
  2. Select a shoe that’s perfectly shaped for your design. Shoes with a wider base often provide a flatter surface over the toe, giving you more space to paint. Vans are often used because they have that shape, but they aren’t your cheapest option. Some paint designs may benefit from a more rounded design with less space upfront. Choose your shoe according to your budget and your paint design.
  3. Sketch your design on the shoe or go straight to painting if you want to wing it. Some shoe artists are precise. So, they measure, sketch, and search for images online for inspiration. Others just want to play with color and patterns. So, they simply start painting and see what happens. Pick your style.
  4. Try not to apply your paint too thick. Go for thin layers of color. Thicker paint tends to crack and break apart faster when the shoes are worn.
  5. Seal your design with a waterproofing spray that is safe for canvas. That will keep your artwork fresh for a longer period of time once you start wearing your shoes.
painted colorful canvas shoes
Photo by: Tavis Beck

Allow your freshly painted shoes to dry, and voila! You’re ready to wear your unique shoes out into the world.

Conclusion

The biggest challenge with canvas shoes is often holding their shape throughout the cleaning process. If you simply toss them in the washer and dryer on a routine basis, they may start to look worn and faded with time. It’s better to follow our step-by-step tutorial to clean your canvas shoes by hand. It may take a bit more time, but it’s the best way to give your shoes more time to look their best.

Your canvas shoes are made for comfort. They’re designed with less support than most sneakers, but they still have a place in your closet. After all, you don’t want to wear sneakers with that casual summer dress or your favorite comfy chinos, right? Use this guide to keep your canvas shoes ready because you never know when you’ll need them to complete your look.

Do you have other shoes that could use a little love? We have tutorials to help you clean leather shoes, suede shoes, and even the smelliest shoes in the closet regardless of the material. Spend some time reading through our guides to make sure you maintain the integrity of every shoe in your closet.

You want to spend money on new shoes you love rather than on replacements for shoes that didn’t last. Routine cleaning is how you make that happen.

Before you head off to enjoy the day in those freshly cleaned canvas shoes, take a second to sign up for our newsletter. We’ll respect your privacy and time by only sending messages when we have something important to say. Don’t miss out on the detailed tutorials we’ll release in the near future. We have some great information coming up!

Do you have questions? What about tips and tricks about cleaning canvas shoes? Feel free to share with us below in the comments section.

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